Christmas is hard to get right for for all of us no matter what your situation. It calls for a lot of thought.
Even more thought if you foster.
But a fostering Christmas can be better than any Christmas you've ever had.
For one thing you have extra help; in my case Blue Sky to ring for a chat about how to handle things.
If a foster child is going to be with you over Christmas, Blue Sky go to work on how to construct the whole thing so that it works for your family and the child.
Say you have a foster child who might or might not be with you through Christmas, that is to say they might go home on December 24th. I've had this one. Presents? What to do?
Maybe you have a child who had weekly Contact with their real parents on December 19th but the Boxing Day Contact gets cancelled. The parents decline seeing their child on Boxing Day due to some vague operational difficulties and you have to explain to the child why their need to attend a family knees up is greater than seeing their own child.
As foster carers we have three big jobs
One: To help the child understand the love their real family has for them (the emotional job).
Two: To get some nice presents for child (the delightful job).
Three: Balancing a foster child in your home on Christmas Day (the tricky job).
One year, this happened. I woke about 5.00am on Christmas morning with the rest of the house fast asleep. I crept downstairs and made myself a cup of tea, lit the tree lights, lit some candles and waited for people to wake up. We have a fireplace, we don't use it much, bit of a fag. But we'd set it up with some kindling and logs. I lit the fire, and put on a CD of carols, quietly.
I heard a creak on the stairs. It's about a quarter to six. Dark. A Christmas tree with lights on in the corner and a proper fire in the hearth. Hark The Herald Angels Sing.
Presents under the tree, some with her name on.
The creak on the stairs was the foster child. A kid who had been deprived of most of the basics. If you go to Blue Sky training you hear a lot about a hierarchy of needs. Food, water, warmth come first (things you die if you don't have). Then they look for higher needs, things like safety (knowing what's happening). Then when they've got that they look for friendship, family and a sense of belonging. Then self esteem. Finally they get a balanced picture of who they are and what the world is; self-actualisation.
And you know what? Christmas can deliver the whole bundle for a foster child.
She peered nervously round the door. "Good morning!" I whispered.
"Whatcha doin'?" She asked.
""Enjoying a moment" I replied "Coming in?"
"Ain't got my dressing gown on"
"Nip up and put it on, it's still a bit chilly. I'll make you some toast. Then come down and choose something off the tree."
She did as I asked, checked which presents had her name on them, then checked the presents she was giving the family. She spent five minutes choosing a chocolate bauble, then simply sat and ate it slowly, staring into the gathering fire, as people do.
Then the child said something I will never forget, I remind myself every year when the first signs of Christmas appear, she said:
"This feels like a dream."
We've all said "I must be dreaming" from time to time. I say it when someone washes up their own mug instead of stealthily leaving it in the sink. It's usually just an expression.
The child actually, genuinely, wasn't sure if she was awake and actually seeing what she was seeing. Feeling what she was feeling.
Each Christmas since we've been fostering we've tried to get the balance right between our own children's needs and any foster child sharing Christmas with our family. We have various little rituals which the child is welcome to join in with if they want, and we discuss it in advance with our own children because we try to keep the sanctity of our family unit and our little heritage intact.
For example, everyone stays in their dressing gowns until presents have been opened. Then the children stay in their dressing gowns until Christmas dinner. It's a symbol of the fact that for one single day every year the outside world can stay away, we are all we need. All the insecurity of the outside world is banished for one day each year. The foster children have always joined in.
This year will be no different.
As for the tricky job of balancing the foster child within your own family during this very personal and family-oriented festival, I find this works a treat, I give the foster child a budget to buy presents for all the family. Doesn't have to be expensive. A bag of nuts for 'dad' (my other half considers cashews the height of opulence), Badedas for me, and so on.
And Christmas in our house doesn't end until someone announces the official verdict;
"I reckon this has been the best Christmas ever".